They say that every one of us will need to take at least one COVID-19 coronavirus test at some point.
And with so many struggling to make ends meet right now it’s a relief to know it won’t cost us an arm and a leg when we do. In fact, we’ve been assured that the tests are covered.
Not so fast. It turns out many ordinary Americans across the nation are going to get a “free” coronavirus test only to get slammed with surprise bills for hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
Sadly, corporate greed hasn’t gone away just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. In fact, it may even be worse. For-profit healthcare institutions have been searching for new ways to get their gloved hands on your hard-earned cash.
But there IS a way to get a test and protect your wallet, at the same time.
How a “free” coronavirus test could clean out your wallet
The reality is some folks out there are playing fast and loose with the definition of “free tests.”
An investigation from ProPublica finds some health providers are saying the TEST is covered. But then they add on “facility fees,” “observation fees,” and other random charges that could end up costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The organization found one example of a $175 coronavirus test along with a $486 “physician fee” and a $1,784 “facility fee,” for a total of more than $2,400.
This was a drive-through test, mind you. In other words, you pull up, they swab your throat while you stay in the car, and you drive off to wait for the results by phone or email. And yet somehow folks were being charged $2,400.
But when you know what to look for you CAN avoid these surprise fees and unethical charges.
First, and most importantly, Medicare Part B covers the test. There are NO payments, copays, bills after the fact, or deductibles when your testing is done using your Medicare.
If you have another form of insurance, you may be covered too. Contact them to find out exactly what they cover and how to best arrange for a coronavirus test if you need it.
Dodge bogus testing fees with these tips
Next, when considering a coronavirus test, these four tips could help you avoid hidden fees:
TIP #1: Call your doctor’s office, especially if you have any symptoms of coronavirus (and go right to the ER if you’re suffering from breathing difficulties or other alarming symptoms). They can tell you if your test is covered by insurance, and what – if any – out-of-pocket fee you may be responsible for if you do the testing through their office.
TIP #2: If you aren’t feeling sick but think you may have been exposed to the virus check with local public health authorities starting with your city or county. Many are running coronavirus testing programs and in most cases they truly ARE free. Most are drive-through tests to limit contact with others.
You can also check the US Department of Health & Human services website. There you’ll find a search feature where you can look up testing sites by state.
TIP #3: Watch out for social media posts and ads pushing coronavirus tests. Some could be legitimate, conducted by health organizations or local public health officials. Others might be private test providers with unclear insurance and billing intentions, or pop-up clinics that DON’T take insurance. Check, and double-check before committing to a test.
TIP #4: When making your appointment or calling to get details about coronavirus tests ask specifically about fees. Find out what’s covered, and if you’re expected to pay out-of-pocket either during the test or through billing after. Don’t sign anything until you’re clear about what costs you will be on the hook for.
The test itself isn’t the most pleasant thing in the world. But it’s not as bad as you may have heard, either. And within a couple of days you should know your status.